Mikkelson’s Arm Leads Steelhead Tavern to 11-2 Victory

Steelhead Tavern 11, So Cal Matanzas 2

By Russ Christ, special to MSBL National

Tempe Diablo Stadium, Nov. 2, 2013 – Michigan-based Steelhead Tavern rode a hot bat and a veteran arm to win its last six games in a row to claim the 2013 MSBL World Series title in the 45-and-over American Division.

Avenging an earlier 9-3 loss, the Grand Rapids, Michigan-based team beat Los Angeles-based So Cal Matanzas 11-2 in the title game.

Steelhead took a 4-1 first inning lead on two hits, a walk and an error, and that was more than enough for their 48-year-old pitcher Lincoln Mikkelson.

Mikkelson, who shared MVP honors with second baseman and number three hitter Matt Lockwood, was stellar. The right-handed pitcher, who spent 18 years in the minors, independent and European leagues, crafted a complete-game four hitter, striking out six, walking one, and allowing a lone earned run in the finals. Remarkably, 112 of Mikkelson’s 145 pitches were strikes.

He was up against a Matanzas team that was inspired by the memory of their popular, longtime leader Mario Diaz, who died in September of a heart attack.

Diaz, originally from Cuba, managed the Matanzas to a championship in 2010. He was a role model and father figure. “A lot of these guys have been playing together for 25 years,” said Matanzas manager Mike Alcala, “and they wanted to win it for him. He was like a second dad to all of us. We were his extended family.”

On this day, however, Mikkelson’s experience won out over Matanzas emotion.

With Mikkelson in control on the mound, Steelhead got contributions from every player on Saturday. In the championship game, 11 different men tallied hits. Bradley Van Bergen and John Sayles doubled in runs during a four-run third to increase Steelhead’s lead to 8-1. Lockwood, Steelhead’s best hitter, had two hits and two RBI in the finals, and carried the team with his bat all week.

“Matt Lockwood was locked in all week,” John Haney, Steelhead’s manager, quipped. “I think he was 25 for 32 or something astronomical. He was on base even more than that.”

Mikkelson proved Lockwood’s equal on the mound.

The epitome of a workhorse, he appeared in all three playoff games, recording a 3-0 record, threw 26 innings all week, and added a save for good measure. “He should have had a couple of shutouts also,” Haney said. “He pitched 19 straight innings for us the last two days.” Mikkelson even helped himself with a 3-for-3 day at the plate in the title game and was 13-for-24 on the week.

The Matanzas, he said, were tough. “They did a good job of hanging in there with two strikes and fouling a bunch of stuff off,” Mikkelson said. “But I didn’t want to walk anybody today because I threw 10 innings yesterday.”

Haney has been coming to Arizona for the MSBL World Series since the late 1980‘s. He won a championship last year with a different team in the central division, but chose to move up a division this year. “The competition was very, very tough,” he admitted. “We started off 2-0, lost to the Matanzas and then won six straight.”

Steelhead Tavern, located in Howard City, north of Grand Rapids, is owned by Frank Zamarippa, their starting third baseman. Seven of their guys played together at Grand Rapids Junior College, a Midwestern baseball powerhouse, in the late 1980s. At one point during the week, all of them were on the field at one time.

Alcala’s team, despite being on a mission for Diaz, could never muster a rally against the savvy Mikkelson. “They took it to us today,” Alcala said. “But a game like this always beats working.”

Mikkelson played professionally for nearly two decades, including a stint overseas in Taiwan. He competed in college with a lot of his Steelhead teammates in Western Michigan.

“It’s all about the ring,” he said. “But it’s easy to enjoy the experience when you come out with a group of guys like this. Everyone knows each other and it’s fun.”

Steelhead Tavern finished the week with an 8-1 record. They defeated Price Cutter Coors — and former MLB pitcher Kip Gross — 7-1, and then beat the Nasty Boys 7-2 on Friday to advance to the championship game. So Cal fell to 6-3 with the loss.